Did you know? At sea level, there is 21% oxygen in the air you breathe.
The rest of the air is mostly nitrogen. In our lungs, we have 400 to 800 million very small balloon-like sacs called alveoli. This is where gas exchange takes place. The oxygen we inspire reaches the alveoli and diffuses into our bloodstream while carbon dioxide is released as we exhale.
Oxygen is then carried by specialized cells called red blood cells (RBC) throughout our many thousands of miles of blood vessels. RBCs have a strong affinity for oxygen because of the 250,000,000 hemoglobin molecules they each carry. Each hemoglobin molecule can bind 4 oxygen molecules so doing the math, each of your RBCs can carry up to 1 billion oxygen molecules!
These 1 billion oxygen molecules are carried on the RBC and travel throughout the body to your peripheral tissues where they are used to make ATP (cellular energy) by our cells. Without oxygen, we can't make energy and cells (and us) start dying/deteriorating very quickly.
Epogen (legal and illegal)
The number of RBCs in circulation is tightly regulated by a hormone made in the kidneys called Epogen which stimulates the production of RBCs. Commonly referred to as EPO, it is naturally produced under low oxygen conditions (such as at altitude i.e. less oxygen in the air) and when there's blood loss. It is also used exogenously (i.e. giving as a shot) in the medical setting in patients with chronic kidney disease who don't’ make it well (or at all). Our RBCs are replaced by new ones every 90 days as well so this is how long it usually takes to make more RBCs.
EPO is also used (illegally) by elite/endurance athletes who are looking for an edge on their competition, the most famous example being Lance Armstrong.
When the red blood cell gets to the peripheral tissue, on average about ½ the oxygen on the RBC gets released. So instead of 4 molecules of oxygen per hemoglobin, there are, on average, 2 molecules of oxygen per hemoglobin when the RBC travels back to the lungs for more 02. Why doesn’t more oxygen get released? Because our body always needs reserve oxygen carrying capacity in case more work is necessary either throughout the whole body (exercise, sex, running from a lion, etc), or in a localized area.
Another way to carry oxygen: HBOT
The key to HBOT is that the pressure we simulate allows us to leverage Henry’s law (see pressure article here). The more pressure put on a gas, the more of that gas goes from gaseous to liquid form) to drive oxygen into circulation, initially binding any sites on hemoglobin that aren’t bound (although there ain’t many left for most of us) but when they are fully saturated, then diffusing liquid oxygen directly into the plasma or the liquid of your blood.
Our blood plasma carries cells and proteins throughout the body. It makes up about 55% of the body's total blood volume. And at sea level, this plasma has very little oxygen in it that’s not bound to hemoglobin in RBCs. However, in a hyperbaric chamber, we are able to drive 1200% or more oxygen into the plasma at 2.4 ATA.
This huge infusion of free liquid 02 massively upgrades oxygen carrying capacity, To demonstrate the power of this 02 potential, studies by a researcher named Borema, done in the 1950’s were able to show in pigs that at 3 ATA (or 66 feet of sea water equivalent) with 100% oxygen, HBOT saturates so much oxygen into plasmas that the pigs no longer need red blood cells to carry oxygen and maintain physiologic function. Because of this potential, HBOT has been used for acute hemorrhage/blood loss and for patients who are Jehovah’s Witnesses that refuse blood transfusions.
Oxygen is THE most important molecule for ATP/energy production. Without it, we can't live for very long. And with more of it in a hyperbaric chamber, there is massive additional potential for healing, optimization, and recovery. More to come on this!